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North Beach Writers’ Retreat

Hi all–

I have not written here for an unconscionably long time, partly because of a new venture in my writing/teaching life: North Beach Writers’ Retreats.  A good friend and I have started hosting writing retreats/workshops here in the beautiful northwoods of Minnesota, featuring some truly stellar visiting writers.

2019 visiting writers were Heid Erdrich in Poetry, and Kao Kalia Yang in Memoir.

For 2020, we have Patricia Smith in Poetry June 2-6, and Patricia Hampl in Memoir, June 26-30. This year we have also added a retreat for K-12 teachers who write.

We also have a slate of online classes and one-or two-day workshops!

Click on the logo below for details and to apply!

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Arts of the Earth Festival, Bemidji, MN

Hi all–

I’ll be reading at the Arts of the Earth Festival at 2 pm on the lower level of Hobson Memorial Union on Saturday, April 27.  Hope to see you there!


Also only three weeks left to apply for the North Beach Writers’ Retreat in beautiful Park Rapids, MN.  Click the link for info.  Poetry: June 26-30 with visiting writer Heid E. Erdrich (application deadline, April 15); Memoir:  August 20-24 with visiting writer Kao Kalia Yang (application deadline June 15).  Check us out!

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A New Venture

The fact that I made a pledge to post here every week and then did not post for a year is probably eveything you need to know about my oppositional nature.

All that aside, I’m doing a new thing, and I’m really excited about it.


My friend Tanya Miller and I have teamed up to offer writing retreat/workshops here in beautiful Park Rapids, MN  We are offering  a 5-day  poetry retreat June 26-30 with visiting writer Heid E. Erdrich and a 5-day memoir writing retreat with visiting writer Kao Kalia Yang.

Check out the details at!

Here’s a taste:

Get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life to unwind and reflect at the North Beach Writers’ Retreat. This generative workshop provides the time and space to push “pause” on the daily responsibilities of life and give yourself the mental space to write. Enjoy writers’ craft talks, writing prompts, fellowship with other writers, feedback, and time for quiet reflection and writing.

Nestled in the heart of the Park Rapids lakes area, the North Beach Writers’ Retreat is located on the property of the North Beach Resort. During free time, attendees have access to the entire resort, which includes a sandy swimming beach on beautiful Potato Lake, an indoor swimming pool, sauna, volleyball nets, canoes, and kayaks.

Please take a look, and we hope that you will apply!




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Fair Warning

I have already broken my weekly posting pledge, and I’m pretty sure if I keep it, at least half of the weeks are going to be posts about how I don’t have anything to post.  Flu, too much teaching, blah, blah, blah.  I will keep making attempts, however sporadically.

Here’s a pretty picture.



And another. Same road, same spot, facing the opposite direction.  Sun dogs at -22 degrees.



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The Art of Concision

OK, OK.  It’s been 12 days since I posted, and I pledged to post every week. Mea Culpa.  I’m working on what has become a bigger idea for an essay than contains itself in a week-long time frame, and it’s the end of a semester and grades are due.  Also the beginning of a new semester with all that attends that.  You get it.  But I did pledge.  So here is an essay from a few years ago.  I know that’s cheating.  But it’s something.  The essay I’m working on brings together a bunch of threads of thought about how men and women approach poetry differently, and it’s wrestling with me.  Right now, it’s winning.  Soon, I will prevail.  Or die trying.


The Art of Concision

As a poet and a reader, I’ve always been drawn to the short poem.  From the haiku and haibun of the Chinese masters to Jane Hirshfield’s  “Pebbles” to James Moore’s recent work, I am struck again and again by the power that can be held in a few words, carefully chosen,

The British Romantic poet Robert Southey said, “It is with words as with sunbeams — the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.” This is not to say that there isn’t a place for the long, rambling, and beautiful elegy or rant.  I find, however, that the short poem is more likely to make me gasp in surprise as it pierces its arrow-like revelation into my mind and heart.

Take a poem like Margaret Atwood’s “You Fit Into Me:”

You fit into me

like a hook into an eye

a fish hook

an open eye

It’s all there in those sixteen words: the hope, the expectation of a symbiotic union, the disappointment, the anger, and the pain.  No long explanation is needed, and if we had one, it would dilute the impact of the poem.  This is often (but not always) the case.  Too many details, too much personalization, get in the way of the clear-eyed observation.  The poem is about the speaker’s experience, and not about it.  Stripping it down to the raw emotion, sans details, allows the reader into the poem in a way that a highly specific narrative might not.

This kind of concision is something that I find is a struggle for many poets.  If the topic is highly personal and emotional (as most good poetry is, I would argue), it is difficult to step back from the specificity of the event.  A stumbling block for those poets writing autobiographically is their slavish devotion to “truth.”  Because they are re-telling something that actually happened, or describing a person who actually lived or lives, they feel that leaving things out will be misleading or dishonest in some way.  Therefore, they end up with poems that read more like stories than poems, or that are so specific to their divorce, or their grandmother, or their herb garden after a rain, that the reader cannot see his divorce, or her grandmother, or their own sparkling cilantro. It is when the poet can let go of the smaller, more earthbound truths that s/he can strip the poem down to its bare essentials and reach the larger, capital –T  Truth that underlies the experience. As Georgia O’Keefe said, “Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis that we get at the real meaning of things.”

In the Atwood poem above, I can think about the ways some of my relationships progressed (or didn’t) and feel the universality of the feelings those eventual, and sometimes long-overdue break-ups engendered.  If Atwood had told me that the “You” in this poem was an alcoholic trapeze artist who never came home without the scent of the bearded lady on his collar, I wouldn’t feel it in the same way, as I have not, as yet, been involved with an alcoholic trapeze artist with a penchant for the unnaturally hirsute. I could enjoy the poem as a curiosity, as a view into another’s life, but I would not have the head-nodding recognition that the poem gives me now. It is not that the Atwood poem is not specific.  It’s what the poem is specific about:  the feelings, not the details, the people not the setting, the timelessness, not the time.

Of course there are poems that go against every single idea that I posited in this article that I love and return to and wish I had written.  But it is the short, concise observation that gets me every time.

(First published on The Writers’ Block at





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Trying To Care About Publishing

Dorothy Parker said (supposedly) “I hate writing, but I love having written.”  I can totally relate to that, but what is even more true for me is that I hate sending poems and manuscripts out to be published (or more likely rejected), but I love having been published.  A conundrum.

For me, the joy of writing poetry is in the invention, the discovery, and the solving of whatever the particular puzzle of that poem is.  Once I’ve done that, I’m kind of done with it and ready to move on to the next puzzle.  This is a problem, because I also like to share my work and have readers connect with it, and (less so, but still) have publications and stuff to add to my resume.  If there were such a thing as an agent for fledgling, unknown poets, that would be great, and I would happily pay a percentage of all my exorbitant poetry earnings (cue hysterical laughter here) to someone who would take care of this end of things for me while I scribbled away and tossed each finished poem into hands other than mine to deal with, not to be handled again by me until I was called to make some kind of grand acceptance speech.  The rejections, in the meantime, would be handled by the agent, and I would never even see them.  I would not even know I had submitted to The New Yorker or Poetry Magazine until the congratulatory messages started showing up on Facebook.  An idyllic existence.  And like most purely idyllic existences, impossible.

This has been an issue for me for decades, and the fact that I have anything published at all is kind of miraculous.  I remember Bill Borden, a dear departed poetry friend, chastising me at a reading about not submitting.  I said to him “I think if I just keep quietly writing poems, and they are halfway decent, eventually The Paris Review will call and say ‘Hey–we heard you have some poems.  Can we see them?’.”  We laughed at how dumb that was, and then, right in the middle of our laughter, Liz Minette, who was editing North Coast Review at the time (the Duluth , MN one, not the other one) approached and asked if she could publish the poems I had just read to the (sparse, in that poetry reading kind of way) crowd.  I hope I didn’t injure Bill with the elbow-in-the-ribs I gave him at that point.  That experience, however, as Bill knew, is the exception, not the rule, and I guess if I want publications I am going to have to get off my duff and send things out.


Just yesterday, in fact, I got a gently nudging message from one of my beloved poetry mentors and thesis advisors, the wonderful Laura Wetherington, asking if maybe I had dusted off my almost-two-year-old thesis and sent it out.

Um.  No.

Her message was accompanied by a very tempting, pie-in-the-sky-ambitious call for manuscripts and an offer to look over a revised version of my thesis.  Totally sweet and generous.  So sweet and generous that I can’t really say no or ignore it, can I ?

I’ve committed to writing something here weekly after a long hiatus, and I suppose it’s time to commit to sending out the poems I have moldering away in the back corner of my office.  I mean, they are already written and everything.  Which is why they bore me.  But I do like having been published, and there is only one way to get there.

Here goes.

Heavy sigh.



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Katie Ford’s Blood Lyrics: A Review

This is a book review I wrote for Ilyse Kusnetz’s class in writing book reviews at Sierra Nevada College, while working on my MFA.  As Ilyse told me, it was probably not timely enough to have published in a journal, as the book had been out for 2 years at the time I wrote the review, but I offer it here, as both a recommendation of one of my favorite books of poetry and a remembrance of Ilyse and her good teaching.  Ilyse lost a battle with cancer and left this world last year, just months after so brilliantly teaching this class.   Ilyse’s husband, Brian Turner, and others have immortalized her words and her voice in a very cool new project called The Interplanetary Acoustic Team.  I encourage you to click on the link and listen to the teaser track, “Light Sketch,” at the bottom of the page, featuring both Ilyse’s poetry and her voice.  Anyway, here’s the review:

Blood of Our Blood

            Katie Ford, whose background as a divinity school student has always led her to explore how we position ourselves in a universe where violence and suffering exist and God looks on, continues that theme in Blood Lyrics, her 2014 poetry collection (Graywolf Press). This collection addresses the questions of her earlier books: Deposition (Graywolf, 2007), which Ford describes in a 2007 interview with Red Mountain Review as exploring “clear correlations between the ways theologians and religious leaders [write] and [speak] and the ways humans perpetrate violence”;  and Colosseum (Graywolf, 2008), which, according to Sasha Dugdale’s 2009 Poetry magazine review, addresses “spiritual desolation” in the face of a “backdrop of constant mortality.”

In Blood Lyrics, Ford explores motherhood and its lines of conjunction to the decimations of war.  Certainly that alliance has existed through time—Mother’s Day was originally conceived as a banding together of mothers against war, and various groups have formed such as the turn-of-the-20th-century American War Mothers and the more recent Another Mother for Peace.  Ford, here, draws a parallel between her own fear and struggle in the days following her daughter’s extremely premature birth and the struggles of soldiers on the battlefield, observers of war, and all who are touched by combat and its corollary violences.  It is the best kind of parallel that is drawn in this collection: the kind we should be able to see but don’t, until a poet as deft as Ford shows it to us.  Of course mothers feel each other’s pain. Of course the enemy combatants are the sons and daughters of mothers. Of course it is blood that connects us.  Of course.

            Ford begins Blood Lyrics begging intercession, casting a desperate spell offering an unnamed power “my lights, …my most and only opal,/  all that is nimble, …/my eyes,/…their cotton” in exchange for compliance with one demand: “do not take my child.”  Throughout this first section, Ford takes us through the terrors of parents on the brink of losing a child, a daughter born too early, a “child of grams” who “weighs seven hundred dimes,/ paperclips, teaspoons of sugar”.  We are taken into the Children’s Hospital, where “a child’s body breaks the heart/and the mother can’t know/if she counts as a mother”. The fear is palpable, the terror  of living on an earth where this could happen, where “the earth laid down/its brutal head/ [and] would not lament” .

Ford laments, and not only for the child she may lose, but for the children of other mothers in far-away lands from whence we get news, though the relationship between motherhood and war is more implicit than explicit.  Occasionally however, Ford gives us signposts on our road to recognition: “Here is the board, here the water./  Baptism is as bad as they say”.  The enemy (whether foreign or not) is humanized, made banal: “Torturers button their canvas shirts/…straighten their cots…bite their toast” and one can hear the unspoken and have mothers, too, when Ford tells us,  “theirs is the zeal of children.”

Ford grapples with beauty in a world where, in Baghdad, “loosened souls” are “hastened into the kingdom/of unspecified light”; where, in Bobigny, “not one in seventy tongues/…are speaking now” and where prayer “chants your own secret incompletion into death”.  She asks that, in such a world, “the pear and fig fall prior to their time,/…the radios die/…each year decay and each decade”.  In this world, “gratitude is not allowed…not without offense”, and yet there is still beauty; there are still “vineyards and orange groves/ [that] rise after seasons of sudden freeze”. Even amidst that beauty, there is disillusionment. “To bomb them,/we mustn’t have heard their music,” yet this poem’s speaker “[tries] to believe in us” and receives “a letter/from a friend: don’t be naive.”  Again a question is asked: “How God can bear it…”; not how God can bear the calamities of death and injury, but how God can bear “the sound of our florid voices, thankful/for the provisions at our table”.  How to manage that?  How to live in a world where “[our] lives should feel like cut-outs of lives,/ paper dolls drifting to the ground, /ready for chalk outlines” but don’t?  How to live in a world where “the garden plot [is] wasted at the gate/…the finch…/so trivial”?

That Ford provides us with such minimal answers, such inadequate remedies (“make an instrument of your broken lung,”  “photograph the massacre”) is a clear-eyed antidote to the empty jingoism to which so much of 21st-century America subscribes.  She wants us to know that she knows we might dismiss her position in “that sentimental watershed called new motherhood”.  She knows that we might think “because [her] child was threatened” she may “too quickly conclude/that no one should be threatened,/that we shouldn’t kill those asleep in their bedclothes/somewhere we haven’t heard of”.

Few readers will leave this collection unaware of the blood that runs through us and through our children, the blood that is spilled in our names, the blood that bonds all mothers to each other and to children.  Few readers will assent to Ford’s invitation at the end of the book:

If you wish, call me what the postpartum have long been called:

tired mother, overprotective bear,

open sore,

a body made sensitive

to the scent of fire or fume,

just as your mother would have been

when you were born, you are alive

to read this now


We are alive, and we are more alive having read this collection. Only time will answer Ford’s ultimate question: “whether something outside of us can reach in and affect change”.





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Back at it, finally


I have let this blog languish for almost a year.  How did that happen?  It’s not just the blog that has languished.  I have not written a poem in over a year, either.  Friend, master writer, and professor Heid Erdrich told me “Nobody writes for two years after their MFA.”  I know that’s not true for everyone, but it made me feel slightly better.  2016 was a year crammed with writing milestones–two intense MFA residencies in Tahoe, finishing my thesis, spending a month writing (sort of) at the Vermont Studio Center, graduating, and receiving the Region 2 Arts Council’s Artist Fellowship, plus a couple of readings here and there.

2017?  Not so much.  My focus there turned from writing to teaching, and I added online teaching for Lake Tahoe Community College to my regular full-time high school gig.  Part of my assignment at LTCC is teaching in the Incarcerated Student Program, and the work that I am doing and have done with incarcerated students has been interesting and fulfilling, as is all of my teaching.  So, now, I teach full-time-and-a-quarter.  But what about the writing?

I resolve that in 2018 I will send out my thesis manuscript to possible publishers/contests, send out individual poems for publication, apply for jobs that will afford me more time and focus on writing, and, most importantly, carve out time to read, think, and write (the holy trinity).  Part of that is the commitment I have made to a group resolution of many poets to blog at least once a week for this entire year.  This is my first post to that end.

Now I’ve said it out loud, so I have to do it.  Stay tuned, and check out some of the other poets who I’m joining in this pledge.

Happy new year, all.  You’ll be hearing from me again next week!



Here’s a list of poets who have committed to blogging at least once a week in 2018.

Kelli Russell Agodon-   
Donna Vorreyer –  
Mary Biddinger – 
Dave Bonta –
Heather Derr-Smith –   
Jeannine Hall Gailey  – 
Erin Hollowell – . T
Trish Hopkinson
Crystal Ignatowski –
Anita Olivia Koester –
Courtney LeBlanc –   
Lorena P Matejowsky   
James Moore –   
LouAnn Shepard Muhm –
January Gill O’Neill  – .  
Bonnie Staiger –
Hannah Stephenson –
Stephanie Lane Sutton
Christine Swint –   
Dylan Tweney –


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Online Class Offered

Once again, I’m offering my class in Writing the Short Poem online through The Loft Literary Center. It’s a 10-week fully online class for poets at all levels who are interested in honing their craft and generating a lot of new poems. For the purposes of this class, we call 15 lines or fewer a “short poem.”

Class begins January 25–I’d love to see you in it!

(lots of people take this class more than once, so , former students–repeaters are welcome!)

Click here for more information and registration.


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So, This Happened

So grateful to be living in the state with the highest per-capita arts funding in the country!  Minnesota values the arts and artists.


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